Before a packed house at the Regional Business Development Center Tuesday afternoon, Stephannie Finley skillfully led the first in a series of monthly meetings to “review and update” the City for Champions proposal.
The first hour of the meeting was predictably dull, as backers of each of the four projects took their turns at the microphone, making speeches they’d made dozens of times before.
Dick Celeste was an exception.
The former Ohio governor, Ambassador to India and Colorado College president conveyed excitement, energy, and conviction as he fired up the crowd with his vision of the proposed Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame.
“This is the heart and soul of the United States Olympic movement,” Celeste said. “It can do for the city what the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame did for Cleveland. It has become the signature attraction of that city, with 450,000 annual visitors, 80 percent from out of town. We project 350,000, and that’s very conservative. If we put an Olympic Museum here, we keep the brand here.”
That’s been a common theme for Celeste, who several weeks ago was even more explicit.
“Unlike Pikes Peak,” he said then, “the USOC can move.”
Mayor Steve Bach acknowledged that the City Attorney has issued a preliminary opinion giving him the right to appoint the entire membership of the state-mandated C4C steering committee.
“I could name them all,” he said, “but I’ve asked (County Commissioner) Amy Lathen and (Council President) Keith King to co-chair the committee with me. There may be as many as eight citizens in addition.”
Given that Lathen and a majority of commissioners are behind C4C, it’s evident that supporters will have a solid majority on the committee.
Members of the public with questions or comments lined up at the beginning of the second hour. First up was local activist/philanthropist/yoga guru Kat Tudor, who read a long, convoluted statement decrying soil and groundwater pollution on the southwest downtown site formerly occupied by the Smokebrush Foundation, which she heads. Other speakers, some associated with Tudor, echoed her concerns.
While Bach responded courteously, he was careful.
“I don’t want to be too specific here,” he said, “I sense from what you’re saying that a potential lawsuit (against the city) may be involved.”
Next up was retired Colonel (and 2011 City Council candidate) Bill Murray, who has persistently questioned the facts and assumptions driving the proposal, especially concerning the Colorado Sports and Events Center.
Murray attacked attendance projections for events at the facility, calling them grossly overblown and utterly disconnected from reality.
Bach explained that many projected events would take place over several days, and that visitor counts included not only spectators but participants, coaches, and their families. That didn’t satisfy Murray, who continued to hammer away at C4C until Finley reminded him that others were waiting to speak.
One speaker drew applause from the crowd when he suggested involving the community in the downtown projects by offering small donors commemorative bricks to be placed in the public plaza next to the museum.
“That’s a great idea,” said Celeste. “That’s what we did at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. There are about 5,000 bricks, each with a donor’s name. We’ll have a sign-up sheet at the next meeting.”
Trying to clear up misconceptions about the genesis of the stadium proposal, Bach said that the idea didn’t come from him.
“A few months after I took office,” he recalled, “I was approached initially by representatives of the Sky Sox and the Rockies. I didn’t call them – they called me. They wanted a downtown stadium, and they shared that with me.”
The two teams abandoned the idea after strong community opposition surfaced, and C4C backers amended the initial proposal.
Speaking even more strongly than usual (which is saying a lot!) Bach defended the spirit and substance of C4C:
“The purpose of C4C is to turn the economy around,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here tonight if the EDC (Colorado Economic Development Corporation) hadn’t agreed and made that award. This is something we should be celebrating.”
The supportive crowd burst into applause.
Immediately afterward, Council president Keith King appeared to offer an olive branch.
“We’ll be listening to your concerns and gathering information (during the coming weeks and months)” King said. “Council wants to speak with one voice to the community.”